Laufen und Wandern: A German Excursion

I ran my first marathon!

Well, run is a strong word. I slowly jogged and power-walked my first marathon. But I finished! 5:34:59. It was SO fun and a really awesome experience! I think I even have the marathon bug now…runners know what I’m talking about.

Let’s start at the beginning. Michael and I took our first trip overseas since the pandemic (and since I was pregnant- we now have a 16-month old toddler!) to Germany and Austria. We spent 9 nights away and it was just glorious. We started in Berlin with the marathon. Michael got in because he’s a fast boy, and I got in because I applied to the lottery and got (un)lucky. A guaranteed way to lose post-pregnancy weight is to sign up for a marathon, I guess.

Berlin is such a cool city! We stayed at Hotel Albrechtshof in central Berlin. It was a simple 3-star hotel in a fantastic location (especially for the marathon). We arrived Friday evening and hit up the race expo to get our bibs and merch, then passed out in our room because neither of us slept on the overnight flight from Atlanta.

Saturday was zoo day. Anyone who knows me should know I hit up zoos everywhere I go; it’s a thing and luckily, Michael doesn’t mind. Berlin Zoo is REALLY old. A bunch of buildings were destroyed in WWII and then rebuilt, but you can still see some of the pre-war buildings and exhibits. I’d definitely recommend this zoo if you’re in Berlin; it’s really pretty and they have a ton of animals and exhibits. Some of the exhibits need some updating and TLC, but you can tell they’ve slowly been renovating the entire zoo.

Super cool Ibex exhibit
Most of the buildings were very neat and old
Cool bro outside of the Aquarium (which we did not see due to time)
Park and fountain in the middle of the zoo. The zoo is smack in the middle of Berlin, too!

My brother and his friends were also in Berlin this weekend (totally by chance, btw) so we met for dinner Saturday night for some pre-race pasta. They also watched us both finish, which was really nice. Shoutout to Patrick and his buds for being supportive!

Race day! We didn’t have to get up too early Sunday which was nice since the race didn’t start until 9:15. Our hotel was about half a mile from the start/finish so we were able to just walk. Michael was in the first wave, and I was in the last, so we had to split up around 8 and go our separate ways to the corrals. I ran just like I trained; slow and steady with lots of water and Clif Bloks every 30 minutes, plus a banana halfway.

A smiling Katie about a quarter-mile from the finish! I looked stronger than I felt.

The Berlin marathon is one of 6 world majors; Berlin, London, Tokyo, New York, Boston, and Chicago. Michael only has 2 left now and should be doing Chicago next year. Michael literally finished several hours before me, so he had time to shower, eat, rest, etc before coming to see me finish. A lot of people passed me in the first half, but I started passing people in the second half! I never hit the wall or bonked because I stuck to my training and fueling, which I was proud of, so I was able to finish strong. I was able to (slowly) walk back to Brandenburg Gate to get a picture with Michael after, then go back to the hotel for a hot bath. We had dinner with a couple of running friends, where I had my first authentic German meal, then I took some ibuprofen and gladly slept.

Running through the gate at the finish line was definitely the highlight!
I didn’t look TOO terrible immediately post-race
Rhenish meatballs, fried potatoes, sauerkraut, and a very large pickle!

Monday was a long, tiring day. We drove from Berlin to Salzburg, which took almost 8 hours with all the traffic and construction. Next time we do Germany, we will take trains. Driving wasn’t as enjoyable as we thought it was, except for the Romantic Road in the Alps which we did a couple days later. We stopped in a tiny town for lunch about halfway, and we were just exhausted by the time we go to our hotel in Salzburg. Keeping your legs still and cramped in the car the day after a marathon is not a great idea, folks.

Anyways, Salzburg! This city is awesome! Crossing the border into Austria was quick and easy, we barely realized we had done it. Our hotel in Salzburg was seriously wonderful. Hotel and Villa Auersperg is a quaint, boutique hotel in the new part of the city, but a short walk to Old Town. Every staff member we met was just superb, and I highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Salzburg. They have their own HUGE beehive in the garden, where they harvest honey for breakfast every morning. We bought some to take home with us as well. We ate a small dinner in the hotel, went to bed early, and slept hard.

Tuesday was a fun and busy day! We started by walking around Old Town Salzburg, then took a funicular up to the top of Hohensalzburg Fortress. Construction on this large medieval fortress began in 1077, almost a thousand years ago. If you’re a history buff, you should look up the fortress and read about its history, it’s absolutely fascinating. We learned a lot about Salzburg in general as well up here. We toured the fortress and got some great panoramic views from the top. We decided to do this last minute, and I’m really glad we did!

The part of the city on our side of the river is Old Town, while New Town is on the other side. The Alps are in the distance, but it was too cloudy to see them well.
View through a window in the fortress. You can see Nonnberg Abbey from the Sound of Music!
A friend I made at the top of the fortress 🙂
There was a super creepy marionette museum in the fortress; this Sound of Music Scene was the least creepy.
Bridge covered in padlocks from Old to New Town

After we explored Old Town, we took the Original Sound of Music Tour, and it was wonderful! We were on a bus with a guide and about 25 other people, singing along to the soundtrack while we visited various scenes from the movie. I’ll post some pictures and explain what they are in the captions, though hopefully most of my readers are fans and will recognize them!.

The “Do Re Mi” Garden!
Garden statues and landscapes
Garden with the fortress in the background
Showing off my sweet Berlin jacket
A fuzzy bee having a snack
The back of the Von Trapp house
One of several gazebos used for “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”
Maria and the Captain were married here!
Inside the cathedral; gorgeous!
The cathedral was in a small town named Mondsee; it was adorable with a gorgeous lake and mountain views.
We were feeling pretty good 2 days post-marathon

Wednesday was another driving day; our shortest one. We drove along the Alps from Salzburg to Fussen, Germany. Most of our drive was along the Romantic Road, which was just incredible. Fussen is a small city nestled next to the Alps in Central-South Germany. I picked it because I knew it was near Neuschwanstein Castle, and it looked to have some excellent hiking. Because who doesn’t want to hike several miles up and down mountains a few days after a marathon?

We arrived around lunchtime and were able to do some exploring that afternoon. We walked around most of Fussen Old Town, then ventured over to some waterfalls and local landmarks, including a really old little castle. We stayed at Hotel Hirsch, which was in New Town less than a block from Old Town; the location was perfect and the price was great. In general, it’s best to stay near Old Town in most European cities; most of the best food and sightseeing is there!

View over the waterfalls
Lechfall: man-made waterfall in a spectacular setting
Small, worn down castle right outside the city

We then decided to hike up to Neuschwanstein Castle to take in some exterior views, since we weren’t planning on touring the inside. The walk/hike had some beautiful views, and it was quite steep! History buffs probably know a good deal about Neuschwanstein and its creator, King Ludwig II. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and Google him; his story is fascinating and quite sad. The castle itself was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which is also why it is so well-known. We also saw the castle King Ludwig grew up in, Hohenschwangau Castle. It wasn’t as impressive in appearance, but it has a richer history than Neuschwanstein.

View of Castle Hohenschwangau from up near Neuschwanstein
Neuschwanstein in all its glory!
Front of the castle
We had to ask someone to take a photo here; a selfie wouldn’t have done it justice!
View from across the castle

Thursday was a big hike day. We decided to take a cable car to the top of Tegelberg Mountain, right outside of Fussen, and then hike all the way down. I never realized how exhausting climbing DOWN a mountain can be until 4 hours of it on already weak legs! The elevation of Tegelberg is a little over 6,000 feet. Not super high, but the hike down was very steep most of the way.

There’s a restaurant at the top, as well as a hang-gliding station that was really busy. I would absolutely do a tandem hang-glide with a guide, but Michael wasn’t too keen on the idea. It did look slightly terrifying.

Some nice German cows
Me smiling with the nice German cows
Michael up at the peak of Tegelberg
Down, down, down. So many steps, so many rocks.
Just chillin’ on a cliff
Foggy, but still beautiful
A map of Tegelberg. We took the cable car up to the top (and walked up to the peak), then the red path allll the way down to Neuschwanstein, then the white path back to the parking lot. Took a solid 4 hours.

Friday was another driving day! It was a pretty long drive from the Alps to the Rhine Valley in central Germany, so we decided to stop in Stuttgart on the way to visit…you guessed it…their zoo! The Wilhelmina Zoo is one of the prettiest and most unique zoos I have ever visited (and that says a lot)! They have botanical gardens, massive greenhouses, and a ton of animal exhibits. They have a brand-new section featuring sun bears, mountain ibex, cheetahs, and snow leopards, and those exhibits….man, they were seriously incredible. They also had a Sequoia tree forest and a small aquarium in the middle of the zoo. To my animal friends: look up this zoo to see everything they have, and make sure you visit if you’re ever near Stuttgart! It was absolutely worth the detour. I didn’t take many pictures because I was just enjoying it, but here are a few!

My crocodilian friend
My favorite animal!
Lovely Dahlia
Some Sequoias, and me for scale
It’s fuzzy, but even the squirrels here are adorable!
My second favorite animal. They had a family of 4, with 2 babies!
A handsome Tapir
I haven’t seen many of these guys before. A very chill Takin.

We arrived at our next (and final) destination around dinnertime Friday. We stayed in a tiny, tiny town called Bacharach, directly on the Rhine. I heard about it from Rick Steves, and knew I wanted to end our trip here. The drive along the Rhine was breath-taking, with so many quaint towns and medieval castles lining the way. Bacharach was simply adorable. The hotel we stayed at, Altkolnischer Hof, was Michael’s favorite of the trip (tied with Salzburg for me). Their restaurant was fabulous, and we had a balcony overlooking the main street. I will absolutely stay here again. We had dinner at the hotel and an early bedtime, excited to explore the area the next day.

Saturday was our last full day in Germany! We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring Bacharach from top to bottom. The hillsides are covered in vineyards, so we hiked up to the top of those for some gorgeous views. We hiked up to the top of the local castle, Stahleck Castle; originally built in the 12th century, it has been mostly rebuilt since its destruction in the 17th century. We also saw the ruins of Wernerkapelle Cathedral, which was built in the 13th century. Almost every building in Bacharach was built in medieval times, so walkig the town felt surreal. We got some great photos of the castle, ruins and Rhine on our hikes.

Main street
Our awesome hotel
So many vineyards! We hiked up to the top.
Castle Stahleck
A neat tower in the vineyards
The Rhine, Bacharach, and the cathedral ruins over on the right
Same view, but with Castle Stahleck on the upper right

We decided to relax in the afternoon. We sipped German soda and read on our balcony while listening to the (very quiet) town life. We had dinner at a local Biergarten, which was the perfect way to end our trip!

Mezzo mix! A mixture of Coke and Orange Fanta. Sounds weird, tastes delicious!
We ate inside an old carousel at the Biergarten.

We got up fairly early Sunday, drove to the Frankfurt airport, got our rapid Covid tests done, and flew back home!

Germany/Austria was such a wonderful trip. Starting it off with my first marathon was really awesome, and driving to smaller cities and towns instead of major cities was absolutely worth it for us. Thanks for reading!

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